Jeremy McWilliams says Jonathan Rea stands on the brink of achieving the greatest feat in the history of Northern Ireland motorcycle racing by clinching back-to-back World Superbike titles this weekend.
Kawasaki star Rea became Ulster’s first world champion in the sport since road racers Joey Dunlop and Brian Reid in 1986 when he sealed the crown at Jerez in Spain last year.
The 29-year-old will repeat the feat at the same venue this weekend if he manages to outscore team-mate Tom Sykes by two points – an accomplishment former Grand Prix winner McWilliams says will outshine anything previously achieved by any other racer from the country.
“What can you say about Jonathan Rea? He’s by far the best ever rider to come out of our wee country – there’s no doubt about that. His determination and drive is incredible and he told me he is absolutely determined to do whatever he can to wrap it up this weekend,” McWilliams told the News Letter.
“He’s not the sort to just sit back and let it come to him and he’ll go out there to try and get the job done. In terms of winning the world title for the second time, I think it ranks above anything that anybody from this country has ever achieved on two wheels in our sport. To follow up last year’s incredible season and do it all again would just be absolutely remarkable.”
Rea, who is also set to become the first rider to win successive World Superbike titles since Blackburn legend Carl Fogarty in 1999, produced a performance in Germany last month that perfectly encapsulated his single-mindedness to swing the championship race firmly back in his favour.
After crashing out in the opening race, the Larne man – who now resides in the Isle of Man – conceded 20 points to Sykes, who finished as the runner-up behind Chaz Davies.
Undeterred, Rea came out fighting in the second race, grasping the nettle in atrocious conditions to secure a commanding victory, with Yorkshireman Sykes falling victim to the conditions on the opening lap.
It was a pivotal moment in the championship that left the reigning world champion’s former mentor McWilliams on the edge of his seat.
“At Lausitzring, that race could have gone completely the other way but looking at his resilience, to be able to bounce back as he did in race two was incredible.
“We were all watching from the edge of our seats but he took the bull by the horns rather than settling for easy points and he restored his lead again. He’s just a terrific rider who deserves to win another world title,” McWilliams said.
“We can talk about where he could be in his career and all the ifs and buts, though I have no doubt he’s a rider we’d be talking about in MotoGP the same way we are talking about him now in World Superbikes, if things had fallen into place for him.
“I believe Jonathan is one of those very few riders who could definitely have made the change to MotoGP and been able to adapt to that style of racing. Nobody can take anything away from his achievements and he’s definitely one of a kind,” added the Glengormley man.
“I think he will go on to win many more world championships if he stays at Kawasaki because he has a very grounded approach to racing. Jonathan has a great family life with great people around him and everything in his mind is just right at the moment.”
Practice gets underway at Jerez on Friday with Superpole on Saturday morning from 9.30am. The first race takes place at 12 noon on Saturday with race two at the same time on Sunday.